Monday, April 11, 2011

OMG a Recipe: Nobody Puts Baby Cannelloni in the Corner

Ladies, you know what I'm talking about -- the dreamy tale of the rugged but sensitive dance instructor who taught you about life, love and having the time of your life, sweeping you off your feet to show that Baby Houseman ain't no baby no more, and showing the world that you can work it on the dance floor like you're all grown's up. What does this have to do with a baked pasta dish? Ab-so-lute-ly nothing. Other than to say that there was pasta and there was a baby involved in this story. So let's get down to business. And remember, no spaghetti arms.

Fine, so it's not really cannelloni, but it's way easy and plenty delicious - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Quite frankly, it's babymania in the world of Wasabi Prime, and no, I'm not preggo with eggo, but I should join the frequent shopper club at Babies R' Us. I visited some recently-baby-ified friends who now have an adorable little girl. The new parents are beaming with joy, pride and the aura of fresh baby spitup. While I have zero expertise with babies, I do understand that schedules get topsy-turvy and the simplest things like sitting down for a meal can be tricky, so I headed over one afternoon with lunch and a spare meal in-hand to save in the freezer for an emergency meal. I chose a baked pasta dish because it's easy to undercook the pasta to keep it from getting too soft, have the whole dish covered in a sauce to keep things moist, and it all freezes pretty well for easy defrost and baking at a later date. It's a one-dish meal that doesn't really require a lot of extra prep. It's good with a salad, but if there's no time for that, it's perfectly fine on its own.

Pasta rolls, quick prep for an easy meal and I discover why we have mac n' cheese - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I made a double batch of Pumpkin Ricotta "Rolls" which are sort of like the cheater's cannelloni. I had some roasted pumpkin in the freezer which I defrosted and mixed with a filling that included ricotta, chopped mushrooms, onions and garlic, among other spices. This is a vegetarian dish, but you can really fill it with anything, as long as you keep the ricotta in as sort of the glue for the filling. I used whole wheat lasagne noodles, but you can of course use regular ones. If you make this, be aware there will likely be leftover noodles and sauce, but there's a quick fix for that, as I'm pretty sure I discovered how macaroni and cheese was created. I had a bowl full of already-cooked noodles which never keeps well, and some leftover bechamel sauce. I chopped up the noodles into bite sized pieces, tossed with the leftover sauce and placed into a baking dish. Sprinkle of cheese and breadcrumbs and a quick trip in a heated oven and shazam -- macaroni and cheese.

No leftovers left behind! - Photos by Wasabi Prime 

Pumpkin Ricotta Cheater Cannelloni, aka Pasta Rolls
(serves 4-6)

Ingredients for filling
1 box of whole wheat lasagne noodles (you may only need about 12-14 depending on your baking dish)
1 oz bag of dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 onion finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cups whole milk ricotta
2 cups pumpkin puree or any roasted squash of your choice
1 cup chopped fresh button or cremini mushrooms
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme (dry is fine)
1/2 teaspoon oregano (dry is fine)
1 tablespoon light olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Sauce Ingredients
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup of mushroom stock reserved from the rehydrated porcinis
1 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese (if you don't like it, fine to leave out)
salt and pepper to taste

Topping for baking
1/2 cup of shredded parmesan
1/4 cup of breadcrumbs

Start a large pot of heavily salted water boiling on the stove for the pasta. When it hits a rolling boil, add the lasagne noodles and cook until extra al dente -- still firm, but pliable enough to roll without splitting. When it's at that stage, drain off, toss lightly with oil to keep noodles from sticking and set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, add about a cup of hot water to a bowl and add the dried porcinis in to start rehydrating. They will soak up some of the liquid, but will leave enough left to use for part of the sauce. This is a great way to use every bit of the mushroom flavor and create a quick vegetarian broth.

To prepare the filling, take a large skillet and heat to medium. Add the olive oil and saute the onions and garlic just to sweat until transparent, and then add the chopped fresh mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms have softened and add the dried herbs. When everything is combined, check the porcinis to make sure they are fully rehydrated and soft. Remove from the liquid, reserving the broth for later, and finely chop the porcinis before adding to the filling mixture on the stove. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a larger bowl, add the pumpkin puree and ricotta cheese, and pour the cooked filling over this. Mix until fully combined. It should have a thick, spreadable consistency, almost like a paste. Taste it to see if it needs more salt and pepper.

To construct the pasta rolls, get a high-sided baking dish, like a glass casserole dish, and lightly oil the bottom to keep the pasta from sticking. On a clean cutting board, lay the cooked noodles flat and spread about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling across the length of the noodle evenly before rolling into a pinwheel. The filling should help bind the noodle into its barrel shape and then place the noodle seam side down in the dish. Repeat until the casserole dish is filled.

For the sauce, get a whisk and a saucepot (or lightly wipe out the pan you used for the filling to save on dishwashing hassle), and heat to medium on the stove. This is better with a nonstick pot or pan so the whisk doesn't scratch up the surface. Keep the sauce liquids within arm's reach -- the milk and reserved mushroom broth. Add the butter to the heated pan and let it fully melt before sprinkling in the flour. Quickly start whisking the mixture to help break up the flour and let it absorb the flour. It will resemble a sticky, golden paste. Slowly start to drizzle in the mushroom broth while whisking. It will drink up the liquid quickly, but the whisk is helping to break up the batter and keep it from clumping and turning into little flour dumplings. Slowly drizzle in the milk while whisking, making sure to break up the clumps. Whisk until the mixture resembles a smooth, loose sauce. Add more milk if it's too thick, the sauce should have a custard consistency. Take small handfuls of the Parmesan and Roquefort cheese and slowly add to the sauce, continuing to whisk. As each handful is melted and incorporated, continue until all the cheese is added. It will have a thickened creamy consistency, enough to easily coat the back of a spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste, mostly pepper as the cheese is salty.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Carefully pour the sauce over the pasta rolls and sprinkle with extra Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs to make a crust. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, just until topping is bubbly and browned or wrap with tin foil and freeze for another meal.

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  1. Yum! I am definitely going to try this recipe:)

  2. WOW! Those look AMAZING...def going to make those!!!


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